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How things have changed..
Old 01-09-2019, 05:52 AM   #1
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How things have changed..

I earned my undergraduate degree at the State University of New York near the Border of Canada ($2500/yr all in). The winters were long and extremely cold and at the first hint of spring heat some of the coeds would don bikinis and lay in the sun. It was a welcome sight because for much of the year the uniform of the day was a down paraka, jeans, a flannel shirt and some hefty boots. It might be all of 75 degress out but it was a relative heat wave when you compare it to 20 below zero. I can tell you the cold there did funny things to cars like when the door handle of my VW bug came off in my hands. I stick shift would become stiff because the cold had frozen the grease. We could judge the temperature by looking out the window at the campus heating plant and gauge the height of the steam plume. A couple hundred feet meant extreme cold. Oh you can dress heavily, have an air cooled car (my bug) but, I learned to respect the cold as it always wins.

The AuSable river runs through the campus and empties into lake Champlain in town; It was there at the mouth of the river that I caught a northern pike one late summer day. As I recall It was my buddy Larry that came up with the idea of ‘tubing’ the AuSable. Amazingly tubes were available at the recreation office. Looking back, I can safely say providing tubes to students was a idea fraught with peril and an insurance nightmare.

I should mention that in the spring the normally gentle AuSable is ripping with the spring melt. We unloaded the tubes and tied them all together at a point upstream. I being the adventurous manly man I was and still am sat in a tube, tested the water and decided it simply was too cold - plus I was scaried. Larry, his girlfriend Bubbles, Norm, Leo and my roommate Marty set off. I was instructed to take Larry’s ancient Chevy Nomad station wagon and meet them downstream at Phileons a local watering hole on the river. I looked it up it is still there.

I drove to the pick up point, our friend Mark and his girlfriend drove up and we waited together on the bridge. The AuSable is an old river and it meanders quite a bit, so it took some time. I noticed that the river seemed particularly swift here. Eventually they came around the bend and seemed to be having a jolly good time. As they approached the bridge they even pretended to be afraid of hitting the bridge pylons -If they only knew.

Im sure they felt the current would safely take them through one of the archways of the bridge but, Mother Nature and the River would have none of it. It happened quickly, I was looking at the down river side of of the bridge expecting them to pass below. It was only when the screaming started that I knew something was very wrong. I ran to the upriver side of the bridge looked down and saw my friend Leo pinned against the bridge pylon, getting a dunking by the angry Ausable. Apparently half the ‘raft; choose one side and they other went the other way. The group was split in two.

About then the screaming became intelligible and I heard “call the police, call the police”. This was pre cell phone era but there happened to be a phone booth right there. I can tell you the panic below was matched above. No one had a any change.

I later learned of the horror that was going on below. Bubbles, Norm and Marty were on one side of the bridge and at some point Bubbles screamed “Where’s Larry” Norm replied ominously “you cant help him now.” Which did not help. My roommate had been dislodged from his tube was hanging on for dear life. That was until his strength failed him and he let go and was swept away- Terror reigned supreme. On the other side Leo was able to free himself and seem to float downstream and i heard someone clearly say “There’s Leo’s body” I was terrified when I heard it. It was them that I saw my roommate Marty standing in the river. You see the river may have been raging but it was only 2 feet deep.

Those who got wet did not come out of their rooms for a couple of days. Some might say shock, I believe otherwise- You see you always wonder how you’ll behave in an emergency. Panic, keep your head or remain level headed and help- you just dont know.

I never remember anyone ever talking about it after. Just thinking about it - i think ill go sit near the gas stove - where’s my blankie?

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Old 01-09-2019, 06:23 AM   #2
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Doesn't sound like it has changed as much as you might think (aside from tuition prices). In the immediate post-college years my friends and I did an annual trip tubing down the Potomac near Harper's Ferry in WV/MD. Same deal, but there is a whole sanctioned commercial enterprise around it, with plenty of waivers signed. Lot's of unsanctioned beer involved. Yes your idea of tying the tubes together is a known problem, you need to just hang on by hand (or drape a leg or foot over) to each other's tube so you can cast off easily. Someone usually tied the cooler in a small tube to them but they were small enough to wrangle as needed. We'd usually go camping after.

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Old 01-09-2019, 06:50 AM   #3
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There's no better way to grow up than riding a wild river. I did it with my roomates at age 21, in canoes, and we were mixed among tubers. It was a mess, and we eventually got dumped by a tuber trying to hold on to us in a class 3. What's a life vest, by the way?

We all survived, lost 1/2 of our provisions, and grew up a bit that day. I learned a little about risk. Hey, I'm not invincible! With that, wild rivers are check off my bucket list. No more desire.

Just last week, we had reports here of about 20 year olds getting stranded in kayaks on our local (sometimes) wild river, the Cape Fear. They don't call it "Fear" for nothing. When it floods, it is tough. This is also when it attracts the kayakers for adventure.

Adventure they got, apparently. Lucky to survive. So, in some ways, nothing has changed except they could call for help with a phone.
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Old 01-09-2019, 03:06 PM   #4
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Canoe tip (from a friend): Don’t canoe backwards, in a river above flood stage, while burning a doob. One could possibly crash into a tree...
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...not doing anything of true substance...
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Old 01-09-2019, 04:07 PM   #5
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I grew up as a largely feral kid in North Dakota. When the river in our small town froze over, I'd find a 20 (or so) pound rock and take it on the ice with me.
I'd toss it in the air, and if it landed without any noticeable damage to the ice....wash, rinse, repeat. I believe that I'm very fortunate that the Sheyenne river was not my watery grave.
Never let yesterday use up too much of today.
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